Port take on fierce rivals Muangthong United behind closed doors on Wednesday, hoping to make some noise by securing a shock victory in the eerie silence of SCG Stadium. With the normal feuding between the Yamaha Ultras and the Khlong Toei Army set to be put to one side for a year, we might even be able to talk about the football for once!
Players to Watch
I’ve had to be extremely selective here, as pretty much the entire starting XI plus a couple of substitutes would be players to watch in any other team in the league.
Even with the abundance of quality on display though, the number one threat has to be Chanathip Songkrasin (18). The 5 foot 2 (yes, you read that right) attacking midfielder has been running rings around and through the legs of defenders across the continent this season. Almost certainly the most talented Thai player of all time, Jay (as he is known by Thai fans) has lightning-quick feet and a football brain to match. He will be playing one of his last games in Thailand before he heads off to Consadole Sapporo in the Japanese top-tier for the next year and a half, so expect the mini maestro to put on a show before his departure.
Theerathon Bunmathan (3), or “Heea Um” – as he is not-so-affectionately known in the Port terraces – is a wing back and dead-ball specialist with one of the best left feet in Asia. He already his nine assists to his name in 2017. From left back. Bloody hell. Um’s ability to land a cross on his teammate’s forehead is unerring, although in recent games against Port Um has let the crowd get to him and performed well below his usual level. He’s probably over the moon that he can get on with his job in peace and quiet on Wednesday!
Teerasil Dangda(10) has his critics (including me, after some of his recent performances for the national team) but his record speaks for itself. When he’s on his game, his finishing is second to none in Thai football, although his work-rate can at times be questionable. If given half a chance in or around the area, Port will just have to pray he has his boots on the wrong feet!
This fella is an absolute brute of a centre half. Celio Santos (29) stands a full foot above Chanathip (6 foot 2) and at times seems almost as wide as he is tall. Celio is a formidable barrier on his own, and his defensive partner – experienced Japanese defender Naoaki Aoyama (5) – isn’t bad either. Muangthong have yet to concede a single goal at home in the league, and most of the credit has to go to Celio who has been outstanding week in week out.
10 wins out of 13 isn’t too shabby, is it? The only glimmer of home for Port fans is Muangthong’s loss last week to specialist giant-killers Thai Honda. Honda took an early lead to Muangthong, and showed incredible resilience to hang on for a win against a barrage of late attacks. If Port can channel the spirit of their exceptional performances against Chiang Rai and Buriram, they too could spring a surprise at the SCG against opponents who have been busy both at home and abroad in the League and Asian Champions League this season. The catch is, that without their 12th man, the Port players will feel very alone indeed in the SCG.
With the mid-season break nearly upon us, it’s time for players to really play for their places. With weaknesses in the squad likely (hopefully) to be addressed in the upcoming transfer window, big performances are needed from several players to ensure that they’re not replaced or lose their position in the starting XI. With that in mind, here are some of the people I think should probably be looking over their shoulder.
With Rattanai (17) now back in training after his injury and Watchara (37) returning the club after BBCU went out of business, Worawut (36) has a big few weeks ahead of him. Rattanai looks odds-on to replace him in the Starting XI when he is back to full fitness, but Worawut still has three games to prove that he belongs ahead of Watchara in the squad. If he continues to look vulnerable under the high ball with his punching (flapping) and distribution very much hit and miss, he could be usurped by Watchara and loaned out if he’s not careful.
Panpanpong (19) has had a decent season to date, but is far from the complete full back. With 21 year old Buriram defender Yossawat being the first arrival, it is clear Jadet is seeking to bolster his options in that area of the pitch, so Panpanpong is going to have to step up his game to stay ahead of his younger teammate in the pecking order.
Adisorn (13) has been a surprising hit this season, performing well in big games and forcing his way in to the first XI. Nevertheless, defensive midfield is a position that Jadet may look to address, as he has shown very little faith in his other options, Tatchanon (39), Wanchalerm (40) and Ittipol (7). Adisorn’s performances in the next few weeks could determine whether or not Jadet will look for another option in the transfer market.
Neither Genki (18) nor Tana (99) has been quite able to make the left wing spot their own so far this season, and that makes them vulnerable. Jadet has already brought in a left sided midfielder in the transfer window, so we know he is looking to add depth in that area of the pitch. The question is, will he be looking to replace either of the two, or supplement them?
Pakorn (9) has been utterly abysmal at times this season. His performance at Korat last week was a prime example of just how bad he can be when his head is not in the game, and it’s a risky time to be at your worst with the window approaching. It’s absolutely infuriating watching a player of his talent blow mostly cold and rarely hot, as he could and should be such a huge asset to Port. If Jadet does look to give himself another option on the right, I would be far from shocked.
Suarez (5) hasn’t quite lived up to the early promise he showed in pre-season. He has had some great games, but has also gone missing at times too. With Maranhao (92) itching to get in to the squad and challenge for a place in the side, Suarez has to put his best foot forward in the coming games to be sure he retains his place.
Josimar (30) has had his moments this season, but he could certainly be more consistent. With Kaludjerovic (10) surely out of the door after being left off the bench against Korat, either Maranhao (92), Asdrubal (27) or another forward will be coming in to the squad and challenging Josimar for his place up front. Josi has three games to prove that he is the man to lead the line for Port in the second leg.
With probably only Nitipong (34), Rochela (22), Dolah (4) and Siwakorn (16) really able to say they are sure their place isn’t under threat, a lot of players have a lot to prove against Muangthong.
My usual ‘Key Battle’ segment seems a bit redundant here, as Port have 11 Key Battles against 11 excellent players. Instead I’m going to focus on perhaps Muangthong’s weakest player. Premier League fans may remember Xisco Jimenez from his ill-fated move to Newcastle in 2008. With a transfer fee of £5.7 million and £50,000 per week wages, Newcastle were less than impressed with the 1 goal in 9 games Xisco managed before being shipped back to Spain.
Despite his failure to light up the Premier League, Xisco would still be expected to be a dominant force in T1, but as it is the Spaniard has found the net 5 times so far this season (the same as Josimar). The main reason I think Xisco could be Muangthong’s weak link today is that his aerial prowess – his main threat – could amount to little if he is well-marshalled by Port defender Dolah (4). Dolah has looked increasingly confident at the heart of the Port defence, earning The Sandpit’s Man of the Match awards against both Chonburi and Korat, and will be relishing the chance to dominate a big name like Xisco in a physical battle.
I may be clutching at straws calling Xisco a weak link, but it’s all I’ve got!
The match will be shown live on True4U at 18:00 on Wednesday 17 May, but we recommend you join us upstairs at The Sportsman on Sukhumvit 13, where a group of Port fans will be watching on a big screen.